Lincoln Riley isn't altering transfer portal recruiting that irked Pat Narduzzi

Lincoln Riley isn’t altering transfer portal recruiting that irked Pat Narduzzi

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USC football coach Lincoln Riley watches offensive players run a drill in practice in March. Riley said he would be aggressive in recruiting. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Since he was first handed the reins of a USC roster in desperate need of a rebuild, Lincoln Riley was clear about his intentions regarding the NCAA transfer portal. He planned to use it voraciously, turning over nearly half the program by mining the portal like arguably no coach has before.

“I’d say we’re open for business on all accounts,” Riley declared in December.

He has essentially cornered the transfer market since, reeling in 15 new USC, including two in the past week alone. But Riley’s aggressive approach amid the changing marketplace has also ruffled feathers, first across the state of Oklahoma and now in Western Pennsylvania, where the potential transfer of college football’s top receiver has sparked accusations of tampering.

Jordan Addison had yet to enter the portal when ESPN reported Friday night that the All-American receiver was mulling the possibility of leaving Pittsburgh for USC. The scenario was apparently dire enough to Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi that he called Riley multiple times Friday to express his discontent. Meanwhile, Pitt officials told ESPN and The Athletic they suspected USC had tampered with their star receiver.

USC officials wouldn’t comment on the accusations. Addison has until Sunday to decide whether he’ll officially enter the transfer portal. If he does, the intrigue surrounding USC’s likely pursuit of the top receiver is sure to deepen further.

The initial connection between Addison and USC, according to a person familiar with the situation not authorized to speak publicly about it, stems from a prior relationship with Caleb Williams, the Trojans new quarterback, who also hails from the Washington D.C. area. It’s not uncommon for other college football players to try and convince their peers to transfer. That, on its face, doesn’t constitute tampering.

Similar accusations from fans across Oklahoma followed Williams on his way to USC. The sophomore quarterback entered the transfer portal a month after Riley left Oklahoma, only to join Riley at USC a month after that. Two other Sooners also followed, leaving many in the state upset with Riley’s transfer recruiting tactics.

“We didn’t take players from Oklahoma, we took players from the transfer portal,” Riley said in a February radio interview with Colin Cowherd, rankling fans even further. “Once a player gets in a portal and they are open to any school in the country, we would be crazy to not look at it and now help our football team.”

If he does enter the portal, there are few receivers in the nation capable of aiding an offense more than Addison. As a sophomore, he caught 100 passes for 1,593 yards and a nation-leading 17 touchdowns on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top wideout.

Receiver isn’t an immediate need for USC after a strong spring at the position. The Trojans have already added three transfer receivers through the portal in Mario Williams, Brenden Rice and Terrell Bynum. But they would happily accept another if Addison, one of the top playmakers in college football, becomes available.

Riley has promised that plenty more transfers will be added ahead of the fall. Already this week, USC has secured a freshman All-American linebacker in Eric Gentry from Arizona State, as well as Ohio State safety Bryson Shaw, who finished third on the Buckeyes defense in tackles in 2021. Both could play major roles next season.

Hovering around 75 scholarship players, USC can afford to add at pretty much any position. The Trojans had just two scholarship quarterbacks and three running backs in spring. It has limited depth on its offensive or defensive lines. Its secondary was down to just four healthy cornerbacks by the end of the spring and four of its five rush linebackers moved from different positions ahead of spring.

“There’s not a position on defense where we wouldn’t entertain the opportunity, at minimum in the name of competition and in other scenarios an opportunity to see the field right away,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It’s an opportunity that wasn’t presented to us in years past, so we’ll be active.”

Could that include the pursuit of a certain All-American receiver? Perhaps. But beyond another top talent emerging unexpectedly, USC won’t add just anyone through the portal.

“The team, all of us, everybody is very aware we need to add some roster spots. It’s obvious, there’s no two ways about it,” Riley said this spring. “They’re going to be vetted by our staff. They’re going to be vetted by our current players. We’re looking for guys who are going to come in and add to that culture.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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